Wednesday, January 30, 2013

RTW: A Dramatic Roadtrip

Road Trip Wednesday is a 'Blog Carnival' where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This weeks topic:  In celebration of the release of Kristin Halbrook's NOBODY BUT US (hooray!!) we're asking: Zoe and Will set off on the road to seek a better life and encounter loads of drama on the way. What's the most dramatic road trip you've ever been on?

It's been a long time since I last participated in RTW and it's almost fitting that this is the topic in which I make my return. 

The reason I have been away (and I have talked a little about this in the last few months) is that I was on a nine week road trip with my significant other across the USA. While I have done a lot of other road trips, I have to say this most recent one was easily the most dramatic.

It wasn't dramatic in that we had issues a long the road, we didn't miss flights, get food poisoning, get mugged or anything like that, but it was dramatic in that we had limited funds, a tight schedule and so much to remember - where we were staying, where we were going next, what time our bus or flight was, and that it was a nine week road trip!

Before we left I wrote out a 65 page guide. Each location we were visiting had a section which included maps of the transit systems, directions from the airport or bus stop to our accommodation, the details of our accommodation, supermarkets close by and restaurants that can deal with my gluten and onion allergy, a list of attractions for each destination complete with the price, address, directions and opening hours and then finally details of our departure.

It was crazy organised and that's the only reason the road trip went so smoothly!
It was an amazing experience though, and we were able to see so much of the amazing USA!

So that's my crazy dramatic last few months! Here's some pictures :D

With Jessica Khoury, the author of Origin

Monday, January 28, 2013

What's your preferred genre?

The other day I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who is an avid YA reader. She asked me what my favourite YA genre is, and then proceeded to tell me her top three genres and her top ten books in each genre.

I was kind of in awe.

I tried to answer her... I really did, but I was too busy doing this....

I had no idea what to say. I don't know what genre I firmly sit in. I

Okay I don't much like straight romance novels, but for the most part I don't stick to a particular genre. I like the book for the book and I don't want to box myself into reading just dystopian, or just steampunk, historical or sci-fi.

I choose books by hearing titles being thrown around, seeing people rave over a particular book, or if I like the sound of the book based on the plot summary. I like to read widely and I want each book I read to be dramatically different from the last, so I'll rarely read two books in the same genre one after the other. It keeps it interesting, keeps me reading. 

At the moment I'm nearing the end of a twelve book series. I've been reading it for two months, and to be honest, I can't wait to get to the end. I'm sick of it and want to read something completely different. I can see the finish line, I just wish I could read a little faster. Only problem is, I'm not motivated to read faster because it's starting to become a chore. I love the series, I love the story (albeit it's a little bit like a soap opera) but I'm wanting something new, fresh and different now.

Am I the only one who doesn't have a set preferred genre? Does anyone else just blow around like the wind? Like a non-committed village bicycle who can't decide which genre to settle down in? If you do have a preferred genre, what is yours?


Friday, January 25, 2013

Review: Still Alice (Lisa Genova)

Still Alice
Written By: Lisa Genova
Published By: Gallery Books
Published On: January 6, 2009
Pages: 292

Still Alice is a compelling debut novel about a 50-year-old woman's sudden descent into early onset Alzheimer's disease, written by first-time author Lisa Genova, who holds a Ph. D in neuroscience from Harvard University. 
Alice Howland, happily married with three grown children and a house on the Cape, is a celebrated Harvard professor at the height of her career when she notices a forgetfulness creeping into her life. As confusion starts to cloud her thinking and her memory begins to fail her, she receives a devastating diagnosis: early onset Alzheimer's disease. Fiercely independent, Alice struggles to maintain her lifestyle and live in the moment, even as her sense of self is being stripped away. In turns heartbreaking, inspiring and terrifying, Still Alice captures in remarkable detail what's it's like to literally lose your mind...
Reminiscent of A Beautiful Mind, Ordinary People and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Still Alice packs a powerful emotional punch and marks the arrival of a strong new voice in fiction.

Like in so many families, Alzheimer's Disease seems to run in my family. Because of this, my mother was curious to read this book. She bought it, but before she had a chance to read it, I snatched it up and was finished within a few days. 

The book is like nothing I've read before. This book follows Alice as she deals with her diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer's Disease while she's still in her 50's. It's very interesting the way it's written. At first she forgets just little things. Of course, she doesn't realise she's forgotten them and she thinks nothing of it. It's not until she begins to forget her way home when she goes for a run that she becomes concerned. As the book progresses, you feel so frustrated as you see just how little she remembers. The people who have been present throughout the book who she begins to forget. How one minute she is very aware of what is going on, but by the end of the conversation she doesn't know who she's talking to.

To be honest, it's a heartbreaking read. Seeing the decline of this incredibly intelligent university professor as she slowly forgets who she is, is difficult, particularly as you see everything from her perspective. 

I don't want to say too much about this book, simply because it's one of those books that doesn't have an intricate plot full of twists and turns. It's not that kind of book. However, it's not slow moving either. It's very well written, and keeps you interested in seeing how Alice manages to get through each day, and seeing how her husband and adult children deal with her prognosis. 

I really enjoyed this book, as much as you can enjoy a book that details the process of such a horrible disease. It actually really made me appreciate what I've got and how lucky I am. I can't imagine how terribly hard it would be to simply...forget who you are. 

After I read this novel, I returned it to my mum, who read it within a few days before passing it on to my dad. Both of them really enjoyed the novel as well, although both admited it was quite difficult and spooky to read. I would really recommend this book to all, particularly anyone who has watched a loved one struggle with Alzheimer's in any of its forms. 

I give Still Alice 5 stars. I know, I don't give out many of these, but it's a very well written, thought provoking novel.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The flying Kiwi returns

It's over. My time in America has finished. While I'm absolutely devastated to have to say goodbye to New York, and the rest of the country which gave me such an incredible experience, I'm excited to see what the future holds.

Living in America was the best decision I have ever made. It gave me so many experiences I would never want to take back, and really helped shape me as a person. It allowed me to discover what I like and don't like, where I want to take my life and where my priorities lie. If I had the chance to do it all over again, I would jump at it - but maybe this time I'd try living somewhere else in that incredible country.

Alas, now it is time to return home with my beloved cowboy boots and country music CD's in tow. To "get back to nature". To enjoy the summer weather, watch the stars, have a few BBQ's and of course celebrate my birthday (two days left, woohoo! I'm an old lady)!

One of the biggest reasons for returning home this year was because I want some good quality time to really knuckle down and work on my WIP. It's been kickin' around inside my head since July last year, giving me the chance to develop my ideas and really think about the direction I want to take my novel. I think now it's really time to get it all down on paper. To immerse myself back into the world that I've started to create. To really connect with my characters and let them get out and tell their story.

What I want to know, is for all you people who have a full time job as well as writing - how do you find a balance? How do you fit everything in? Do you set aside a few hours at night? Do you only work on weekends? Or do you sacrifice your sleep to write? If you have any secrets or tips you'd like to share with me.... please do. I love advice and welcome it wherever you've got it!

Gotta jet before I miss my plane! See y'all on the flipside!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Review: Ape House (Sara Gruen)

Ape House
Written By: Sara Gruen
Published By: Spiegel & Grau
Publishing Date: September 7, 2010
Pages: 320

Sam, Bonzi, Lola, Mbongo, Jelani, and Makena are no ordinary apes. These bonobos, like others of their species, are capable of reason and carrying on deep relationships—but unlike most bonobos, they also know American Sign Language.

Isabel Duncan, a scientist at the Great Ape Language Lab, doesn’t understand people, but animals she gets—especially the bonobos. Isabel feels more comfortable in their world than she’s ever felt among humans . . . until she meets John Thigpen, a very married reporter who braves the ever-present animal rights protesters outside the lab to see what’s really going on inside.

When an explosion rocks the lab, severely injuring Isabel and “liberating” the apes, John’s human interest piece turns into the story of a lifetime, one he’ll risk his career and his marriage to follow. Then a reality TV show featuring the missing apes debuts under mysterious circumstances, and it immediately becomes the biggest—and unlikeliest—phenomenon in the history of modern media. Millions of fans are glued to their screens watching the apes order greasy take-out, have generous amounts of sex, and sign for Isabel to come get them. Now, to save her family of apes from this parody of human life, Isabel must connect with her own kind, including John, a green-haired vegan, and a retired porn star with her own agenda.

Ape House delivers great entertainment, but it also opens the animal world to us in ways few novels have done, securing Sara Gruen’s place as a master storyteller who allows us to see ourselves as we never have before.

My FH purchased this book a few months before we moved to America and it was one of the new novels he ended up packing in his suitcase. I was unprepared for the long, boring trips on the subways and I hadn't managed to buy a kindle yet, so I picked up Ape House. It then proceeded to blow me away.

Isabel has been working with bonobos for years, teaching them how to communicate via sign language and monitoring their progress as they grow and learn how to communicate with humans. John is suffering a slump in his journalism career and looking for a 'pick me up', decides to write a human interest piece on Isabel and the bonobos. He comes prepared with treats and games for the apes and quickly earns their trust. On his way out he notices the protestors at the gates of the lab but ignores them to head home to his semi-strained marriage. Later that night, with Isabel still inside, the lab explodes. From this point on the intensity of the story continues to rise, as more twists and turns are thrown at your face without giving you enough time to realise they're coming.

I really liked the character of Isabel. She's brave, strong, sweet, loving and entirely devoted to those apes. Throughout the novel, she battles a lot of hurdles and has to realise who she can and can't trust. One thing I love about Isabel is that she very firmly knows who she is. She knows where she belongs and how to be her own person.

I liked John as well. I found him to be quite a complex character. He struggles with where he fits in the world, he struggles with his career and his marriage, but he's also devoted. He knows where he should be and he strives to get to that point. He also knows right from wrong and isn't afraid to call out anyone who doesn't play by the rules.

Of course there are some really nasty characters on board in this book. Some are outright nasty from the beginning, some completely blind-sighted me - I didn't even see their evilness coming! I like books that surprise you like that. Very well written, Ms Gruen!

I really loved the plot of this novel. It was different than the books I normally read. The research that obviously went into writing this story was evident, and it was amazing how much I learned about bonobos and their nature just by reading this novel. The book was fast moving, exciting and I couldn't barely put it down.

I later read Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen's more well known book, and while I enjoyed it a lot I think I preferred Ape House. They're very different but I found the story of Ape House much more intense and fast paced.


One thing I also loved about this book is that throughout most of the story it seemed like the sexual tension between John and Isabel might amount to something. I found it really refreshing to see that instead of giving in to it, he really worked hard at making his wife happy and working on their marriage. It's not something you often see in novels, and it was really nice to see.


Overall I definitely recommend this book. I give Ape House 5 star.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Ode to a New Zealand legend

When I started school as a five year old, I loved going to the library each week and picking out a book to take home. In choosing a book I always looked for a particular kind of illustration. It had to be more rounded and bubbly with bright, vibrant colours rather than sharp with darker colours. I guess the pictures I liked were more... modern than the pictures I didn't like.

Aside from the books we chose from the library, we also were given books to take home each night to practice reading. In New Zealand, there was one children's author that wrote hundreds of books throughout her life and it was her books that regularly came home with me, either as the class "homework" reading or the weekly book I'd chosen from the library.

That author was Margaret Mahy. She's what I would call a New Zealand legend. There are very few New Zealander's under the age of 35 who weren't bought up on Margaret Mahy's books. She wrote more than 100 picture books, 40 novels and 20 collections of short stories.

Her most famous children's book would possibly be A Lion in the Meadow, which became known internationally after its publication in 1969, and The Man Whose Mother was a Pirate. When I was 12, my whole school performed this book as a two hour long production. I was a pirate and had one line - bonus! Margaret Mahy attended one of the performances and sat in the front row. It was so exciting!

In April 2012, Margaret was diagnosed with an inoperable cancerous jaw tumor and just three months later on July 23, 2012 she died in hospice. For so many of us young Kiwi's who had grown up with her stories, the loss is huge. It's comforting to know, however, that her legacy will live on in the next generations of New Zealander's as they grow up reading through the many books Margaret published during her 76 years.

File:Margaret Mahy at the Kaiapoi Club, 27 July 2011, smiling (digitally altered).jpg

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Writer's Music

I've been at Disneyland the last few days, going crazy over the rides and the Disney characters at every turn. It's got me thinking about how important to each of Disney's films the soundtracks are. What would The Lion King be without Hakuna Matata?! What about Aladdin without A Whole New World? And then of course there's the other movies that rely on the music to set the scene and create the mood of each part of the story.

Why is it that many of us listen to music when we write? Is it because it helps create imagery in your mind and provides inspiration or does it help you concentrate or is it just because you don't like writing in silence?  What do you listen to when you write?

For me, I think I listen to music because it really helps me set the scene of what I'm writing about. It provides inspiration and helps me to imagine the world that my book is set. For me, music really helps fuel and push a story forward.

I've listened to a few writing soundtracks of other authors and noticed that a lot of the music others listen to is filled with lyrics. That's the first rule I make. No lyrical songs. Not because I don't love them but because I latch on to songs that I like, then I play them over, and over and over until people tell me to stop (at which time I put headphones on and continue listening to it over and over).... and then I know the words, so my brain focuses on the song, and the lyrics, rather than it becoming background noise.

I also do love classical pieces, and my FH is a pianist who used to fill the house with music before he sold him piano to buy his plane ticket to America (sob). So I went around the internet (oh how I love the Internet) and searched for instrumental musicians I loved to add to my playlist.

The first I found was Ludovico Einaudi, an Italian pianist who's music I love. I find his music really great for writing scenes about the setting or quiet, slow paced scenes. Check out his stuff here

When I want a change of pace I get stuck into the feisty Lindsey Stirling. She's an amazing young and rocking violinist. I've been super impressed with her stuff. I've never seen someone make violin playing look as cool as she does, and it's some great music to listen to when I'm really trying to get in the feisty writing zone! You can find her here

For some great scene setting music to really get me in the right frame of mind, I listen to a YouTube channel called Essenceuy. There's such a range of music, for all the occasions you could possibly imagine in your novel! It's great! Check it here

And finally, a band I actually discovered at the Tall Ships Festival in Montreal was Beltaine, a Polish folk band with some entrancing folk style music which may make you feel like you're in Ireland or Scotland, and of course Poland. They're really great and I listen to them a lot when I'm imagining the world of my current WIP. Find them here.

Aside from that I listen to the classic Mozart and Beethoven songs, just to mix it up a bit!

Now, they're the ones I listen to most regularly, but I'm always on the lookout for more, so if you know any great instrumental bands or instrumental music please do let me know! I'd be curious to know if you listen to music when you write, and if so, what kind?